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This past January my partner and I drove our van to British Columbia to ski Banff Sunshine, Rogers Pass and Revelstoke. We chose to travel towards the end of January and early February in hopes of finding good snow. While most of the Western US was dry during this period, a low pressure system moved through Banff and Glacier National Park, delivering dry, fluffy snow. Here’s how we did it, what we learned, and what we’d do differently next time for an even better winter adventure in the van.
Skiing out of a van is incredible. It gives you way more time to spend in the mountains and outdoors than you typically would if you were staying in a lodge or hotel. Life is simpler — you don’t have the stress of checking into a rental, packing and unpacking, finding parking, and dealing with local traffic. Instead, it provides the freedom to ski until the sun sets or get up early in time for sunrise.
Make the most of van life in the winter by finding a beautiful place to park where you can make dinner and wake up to a beautiful view. After a day of skiing powder at Rogers Pass we were able to ski right to the van, get dinner ready, eat, drink wine and watch the sunset. There’s not much more you can ask for on a ski trip than simplicity and time to appreciate the beauty of the mountains.
Insulation for your van is key. There are a couple different ways to insulate your van. We chose to insulate our walls and ceiling with Owens Eco Touch Insulation because it is malleable and easy to work with. The floor of the van is a little more complex. We had wool insulation at first, but when adding Vinyl Wood flooring, we discovered it would not work with a soft floor. So, we abandoned floor insulation (not recommended), and since we were running on a budget, we didn’t buy insulated flooring and ran with the vinyl we had which didn’t keep us warm enough. Rather than skip this step, I highly recommend investing in a material with a higher r-value (insulation) such as cork flooring to keep your van comfortable and warm.
There are a bunch of different heat sources you can choose from to heat your van. Some use a propane or diesel heater such as the Propex heater. These are great but expensive and involve cutting a large hole in the side of your van. We opted for a wood stove. Yes, we had to cut a hole for our chimney, but it was much smaller and easier to manage than cutting a larger one for the Proper heater. Not to mention, a wood stove gives your van a homey feeling and offers a place to cook when it is dumping outside, and of course, a great place to dry your boots, socks, goggles and gloves for the next day.
Shopping for a van is a challenge and it took us months of searching to find one. If there’s one thing I recommend and wish we did differently, it’s buying a van that you have enough room to stand up in and have the space to move around and get dressed.
Our 2000 Ford E-150 was cheap, but every day we wished we could stand up. Having to hunch over while getting ready for the day or something as simple as accessing your things in the back of the van was frustrating and we ended up with some painful ski days.
Finding local hot springs nearby to warm up in is a huge benefit during a winter van trip. You will be cold. You’re living in your van in the winter, after all. A soak in the hot springs provides necessary warmth and relaxation to enjoy your time in the van to the fullest. As it turns out there are a lot of hot springs scattered throughout the west. Wherever you take your van, search for hot springs in the local area. After skiing Banff Sunshine, we found the Banff Upper Hot Springs, a great way to warm up after a cold ski day.
Even during the hard times, when your van gets stuck in the snow, you’re freezing cold, or can’t stand up, living a free and simple life is remember to enjoy it and have fun. It is about finding new places, exploring old ones and looking forward to the next day because you don’t know what it will bring.
Words and Photos by Will Berger - Wagner Ambassador